Microsoft and Apple aren't exactly the best of friends, given Microsoft's persistent push to claim part of the smartphone and tablet market that Apple corners. The same could be said of Microsoft's relationship with AT&T, Verizon and Cisco. But for the first time since forever, the technology companies have come together in a call for the U.S. government to stop putting its nose where it doesn't belong.

Apple and Cisco filed a joint amicus curiae Friday in support of Microsoft, which is currently challenging a warrant ordered by a federal court compelling the Windows maker to provide information about an undisclosed email whose content is stored in Microsoft's servers in Dublin, Ireland.

An amicus curiae is a friend-of-the-court brief filed by a party not directly involved in the litigation but believes it may be affected by the outcome of the proceedings. AT&T, Verizon and the Electronic Freedom Foundation also filed their separate briefs Thursday.

Magistrate judge James C. Francis IV issued a warrant against Microsoft that ordered the company to release the content of email the U.S. government believes to be involved in drug trafficking and related money laundering. In documents made public last week, Microsoft openly challenged the warrant, which the judge says is a hybrid warrant-subpoena. While it was issued on the basis of probable cause like a warrant should be; it still served as a subpoena because it does not authorize law enforcement authorities to physically search Microsoft's servers.

But technology companies argue that by forcing Microsoft to open up its servers abroad, it could very likely set a precedent for the government of the U.S. and other countries to demand customer data from technology companies without honoring treaties and international law.

Microsoft specifically argued that the U.S. must abide by the mutual legal assistance treaty it has with the Irish government, which states that governments wishing to obtain criminal investigation evidence found in other countries must comply with the local laws of that country. Under Irish law, the U.S. administration must obtain a warrant from a local Irish court judge to open up Microsoft's servers in the country. Apple and Cisco agree.

"By dismissing the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process out of hand with no factual findings regarding the Irish MLAT at issue - the Magistrate placed the burden of reconciling conflicting international laws squarely on U.S. providers," they both write [pdf]. "By disregarding that process, and the laws of the country where data is stored, the Magistrate's analysis places providers and their employees at significant risk of foreign sanctions, and threatens a potential loss of customer confidence in U.S. providers generally."

For its part, the U.S. government said in its own brief [pdf] that under the Stored Communications Act of 1986, the physical location of the information in question is "simply irrelevant." It also said that if government is restricted from obtaining data from Microsoft's Dublin server, it would have a "devastating impact" on its ability to investigate crimes. 

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